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Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham
Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)

Islamic State of Iraq and al-ShamThe Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (formerly known as Al Qaeda in Iraq - AQI) is one of two al Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria. AQI is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whom the United States has named a Specially Designated Global terrorist. Al-Baghdadi, who is also known as Abu D’ua, is now based in Syria, and has taken personal credit for a series of terrorist attacks in Iraq since 2011.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant [Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, al-Sham being an Arab term for the Levant] is by no means the largest of the loosely aligned rebel organizations battling to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and it is concentrated mostly in the northern and eastern provinces of the country. But with its radical ideology and tactics such as kidnappings and beheadings, the group has stamped its identity on the communities in which it is present, including, crucially, areas surrounding the main border crossings with Turkey.

In Iraq, membership was initially estimated between 1,000 and 2,000, making it the largest Sunni violent extremist group in Iraq. Membership in Syria is unknown, although it is likely that the group’s members make up a significant portion of the estimated 25,000 violent extremist fighters in Syria. AQI’s operations are predominately Iraq- and Syria-based, but it has perpetrated attacks in Jordan. In Syria, al-Nusrah Front has claimed attacks in several major city centers. AQI maintains a logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Europe. AQI receives most of its funding from a variety of businesses and criminal activities within Iraq and Syria.

In 2012, AQI was behind an attack in March on Shia pilgrims in the city of Karbala; the torching of cars near a police headquarters in Kirkuk; the targeting of security forces and government officials in Baghdad; a series of attacks in July that killed 325 people; and attacks in November that killed at least 166 Iraqi civilians, police, and soldiers.

AQI was responsible for the majority of the over 7,000 Iraqi civilians killed in 2013 – the highest number since 2008. In April 2013, AQI’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the group was operating in Syria and changed its public name to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant(ISIL). In 2013, ISIL was heavily involved in the fighting in Syria, including against other militant opposition groups, and participated in a number of kidnapping incidents against civilians and reporters. For example, in September ISIL abducted Spanish journalist and photographer, and in December, ISIL reportedly kidnapped at least 120 Kurdish cilvilans in Aleppo province. According to a December 2013 UN report, ISIL is also running secret prisons in northern Syria, where civilians are tortured and killed for challenging ISIL’s rule.

In 2013 AQI was responsible for the simultaneous attacks in July 2013 on prisons at al-Taji and Abu Ghraib that killed approximately 29 and freed hundreds of prisoners; a wave of bombings in Baghdad in August that killed approximately 52; and the September bombing of the Kurdistan Democratic Party’s Directorate of Security headquarters in Irbil that killed six. On October 6, in Ninewa Province, two Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIEDs) were detonated in the al-Aiyathiya neighborhood. The first VBIED was detonated near an elementary school and the second one targeted an Iraqi Police checkpoint. The attacks killed up to 13 school children and one Iraqi police officer. Another 140 were wounded, mostly students from the school. On October 17, near the end of the Eid al-Adha holiday, a suicide bomber detonated a VBIED in a Shabak minority neighborhood in eastern Mosul, killing 15, including seven children, and wounding more than 50 others.

On December 23, five people were killed in a suicide bombing after armed AQI militants stormed a television complex in the city of Tikrit. The violence unfolded when a car bomb exploded outside Salah ad Din TV and the local offices of al-Iraqiyya State TV. Militants then stormed the offices of Salah ad Din TV and a suicide bomber killed the chief news editor, a copy editor, a producer, a presenter, and the archives manager. Five other employees were wounded.

In April 2013, Al Nusra backers split into two factions: one group maintained its original name while Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the leader of AQI, transformed the other faction into a new group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS). Al Qaeda central leader Ayman al Zawahiri instructed the groups to refrain from rivalry.

On 09 June 2013 Al-Qaeda’s top leader ruled against the merger of two jihadi groups based in Syria and Iraq, in an attempt to put an end to increased tensions and infighting among members. Ayman al-Zawahiri’s ruling came in a letter addressed to the leaders of Syrian-based Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), which is the largest jihadi umbrella group in the country. Al Jazeera exclusively obtained a copy of the letter from reliable sources in Syria. The ruling came two months after the leader of ISI, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, declared a merger with al-Nusra to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), saying that al-Nusra was "merely an extension and part of the Islamic State of Iraq". However, the unilateral move led to defections, infighting and a breakdown in operations as members disagreed over who commanded the battlefield.

By September 24, 2013 there was a major firefight along the border, Turkey and Syria, between al-Qaida extremists and forces loyal to Salim Idris. It stretched from Deir Ez Zor down on the southeast part of the country, near the Iraq border, all the way up to the Turkish border north of Aleppo. It was the hardest fighting ever seen between Salim Idris’s elements of the Free Syrian Army and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed that it overran an air defense base and ammunition depot in Hama province. The ISIL said that "hundreds of the men of the Islamic State" attacked the "Air Defense Battalion and the vital depots of 66th Brigade, and tens of checkpoints, villages, and security points that are spread in the eastern countryside of Hama. The group made the claim in an official statement released yesterday on its official Twitter account; the statement was obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.

The ISIL said that "the soldiers of Allah were able to surprise the enemy from several points in a fashion that it could not imagine, which led to the rapid breakdown of its advanced defenses and the fall of the Air Defense Battalion into the hands of the mujahideen." It claimed that the 66th Brigade's Air Defense Battalion and ammunition depot were overrun after just hours of fighting.

An umbrella group that includes al-Qaida in Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, (or ISIL), has claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that took place during Eid, when Iraqi families were celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Al-Qaeda front group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant claimed a wave of attacks that killed 91 people and injured hundreds during the Eid al-Fitr holiday on 11 August 2013. "The Islamic State mobilised... in Baghdad and the southern states and others to convey a quick message of deterrence on the third day of Eid al-Fitr" in response to security forces' operations, a statement posted online said.

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Page last modified: 17-06-2014 14:36:54 ZULU